BioSpectrum Asia|December 2019

According to an EY report, between 2013 and 2017, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) filed 186 health-related patents, Microsoft – 73 and Apple – 54, which is a 38 per cent increase in the number of such patents by these three companies every two years.

The report further noted that such a competition poses a new challenge to pharma, and argued that health companies should capitalise on the data they gather to create digital solutions helping patients with their health. Many of the challenges that the healthcare industry can be solved with the availability of state-of-the-art digital health solutions. Moving forward it will become imperative for pharma and tech firms to collaborate and this joint collaboration will create a new market that has more than enough potential for both sides.

According to Deloitte, the healthcare market will be a $10 trillion business by 2022, and obviously different players are vouching to have the biggest slice of the pie. Big Tech’s fascination with healthcare is well known with the likes of Google, Amazon & Apple announcing new project in life sciences practically every day. Life sciences companies have also responded to this potential disruption with their own exploratory programs, using artificial intelligence (AI), and other digital technologies to improve or optimize clinical trial recruitment, drug discovery and interactions with payers and physicians.

An analysis by EY shows that even major clinical breakthroughs face the prospect of diminishing returns as cost-conscious payers require proof of real-world value. As life sciences companies expand their digital efforts, however, the investments are too often made in isolation of each other. As a result, companies are at risk of under investing in the technologies that will transform their business models and generate significant future top-line returns.

Block chain, cloud, AI, and robotics are some of the technologies disrupting healthcare. These technologies are helping with prevention, helping patients monitor and manage chronic conditions, lowering the cost of healthcare provision, and making medicine more tailored to individual needs.

While most of the tech firms in healthcare are focused on digital healthcare or with e-pharmacies, pharma firms are collaborating with tech firms to apply tech to transform mostly their research and development. The one tech where pharma is betting big is AI – from Novartis to Eli Lily, they are working with AI firms to accelerate the process of drug discovery. The predictive and analytic powers of AI enable companies to make smarter, faster, and more strategic decisions. AI increase drug development efficiency.

There’s no doubt that pharma firms generate a lot of data. With the help of newer technologies like AI, Machine Learning (ML) and Analytics, they are able to analyze data that they gathered in order to design treatments that are more personalized and more effective.

AI will be critical to the future of pharma as the amount of available data and monitoring devices increase. AI helps in collecting and aggregating disparate data sets and identify patterns which in turn will generate more insights. The real potential of AI and machine learning helps in enabling pharma companies to be smarter, faster, and more cost efficient. A data-driven approach can discover aspects that are of vital and strategic importance, thereby enhancing the ability to make critical decisions.

AI can identify even the slightest change in air quality or temperature changes on the shop floor 24 hours a day and respond immediately for sterile manufacturing requirements. It is critical to catch any potential problem before it damages a product which may cause a costly shutdown, a massive product recall, or require equipment replacement. Back in 2007, Novartis and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched a long-term research collaboration aimed at transforming the way pharmaceuticals are produced. Through the PhD programs, the Novartis-MIT Center is piloting new continuous manufacturing research with Industry 4.0 artificial intelligence with Novartis investing $65 million in research activities for a period of 10 years.

Another area where pharma firms are increasingly applying new tech is clinical trials. Historically, clinical trials have been expensive and time consuming process. In addition challenges in clinical trials include data fragmentation, inefficient operations and limited value for patients. But now pharma companies are looking to leverage the latest technologies to reach patients in a more targeted way. AI and ML help in implementing a more patient-centric, technology-enabled approach to research, and increase the number and diversity of clinical research participants. Companies like Novartis, Pfizer and Merck & Co. are investing in innovative approaches to strive to enrich clinical trial data and augment decision making by utilizing digital health technologies and real-time data access.

Apart from collaborating with the tech firms for improving their workflow, pharma firms are also increasing funding health tech and digital health startups. While the pharma sector does have a history of investment into digital health, such as Johnson and Johnson Innovation in Getwell Network or Merck in ImpactRx, both in 2009, such deals were few and far between. However, in the past three years, corporates including Merck, Roche, and GlaxoSmithKline have picked up the pace of digital health investment, noted a report in CB insights.


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December 2019